Why You May Still Need to Pay Vet Bills Even With Pet Insurance

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  • Pet insurance can cover many veterinary costs, but pet owners still need to save money for vet bills.
  • Pet owners often have to pay upfront before insurance reimburses costs.
  • Plus, some conditions and services typically aren't covered by insurance.

Pet owners must make sure they understand how pet insurance reimbursement works.

It's a good idea for most pet owners to buy insurance coverage for their animal companions. Pet insurance can pay expensive vet bills if an animal gets sick or hurt. This often means owners don't have to worry about whether they can afford to get their pets the help they need.

But even owners with pet insurance may still want to have some money saved to cover vet bills. Here are two big reasons why that's the case.

Pet owners may need to front the costs of care

One of the most important reasons pet owners should have money saved for pet bills is because of how the pet insurance claims process works.

Unlike with human health insurance, vets usually will not directly bill the insurer and they will not wait for a determination by insurance about how much the pet owner owes. Instead, many veterinarians typically require payment from the pet's owner at the time care is provided -- even if insurance will ultimately pay the bill.

An owner generally pays out of pocket for their pet's care because the vet wants to get paid right away -- and then they submit a request for reimbursement for covered services to their insurer. The pet insurer then reviews the claim and sends out money due if it is approved.

It can take time for a pet insurer to review a claim and issue a payment, though. And in the meantime, the pet owner may need to pay for the costs of care. If this care is put on a credit card, the bill could come due and interest could be charged before the pet insurer has a chance to pay the claim -- and this could be a big problem.

Likewise, if a pet owner doesn't have the money or credit to pay a vet upfront for covered services, it might not even be possible to get care at all. This could mean the pet loses out on a treatment that insurance would cover in the end, solely because an owner didn't have the money to pay for the treatment and wait for reimbursement.

Not all care is covered by pet insurance

Not only do pet owners need to be able to front the money for covered care in most situations, but owners also need to be able to pay for medical services an animal needs that are not covered by pet insurance.

Some pet insurers will cover treatment of accidents or illnesses but will not cover the exam necessary to diagnose covered conditions in the first place. Most pet insurance policies also do not pay for routine or wellness care, unless the pet owner purchases an add-on rider to cover wellness care. And pet insurers typically exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions, so owners who don't get insurance right away may have pets with medical problems they are still responsible for paying for.

For all of these reasons, it's a good idea for people with an animal companion to have a dedicated savings account for veterinary care. This way, the money is there when needed and beloved pets can get the help they need without financial issues standing in the way.

Our Research Expert

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